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Revised 27 December 2010


South Dakota is a land unlike any other you will ever visit. It is split down the middle by the Missouri River with gentle rolling prairie hills to the east, and the some of the starkest most twisted landscape you will ever see to the west. The area of western South Dakota is aptly named the badlands. You will find places of stark, flat-topped buttes, and twisted coulees and canyons. This was once the home of huge herds of buffalo. Its earliest residence were Ice Age Hunters, but the warming of the temperatures caused them to leave and we then see the Arikara Indian Tribes. The Arikara were a farming culture that lived along the Missouri River. They built villages of elaborate earthen lodges. Also living here were the mighty Cheyenne, a nation of hunters, who lived in the western regions. The Sioux migrated in from Minnesota in the 7900s at a time when the Great Plains Indian culture was at its peak. The introduction of horses by the Spanish in the 16th century gave the tribes the ability to hunt more widely for bison and created a highly mobile lifestyle that followed the massive herds.

In 1743, the La VĂ©rendrye brothers were the first white men to enter the Missouri River valley as they sought a route to the Pacific. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark also passed through that region in 1804 and were the first Americans to enter that region.

South Dakota was included as a portion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The entry of settlers into the territories brought a bloody response from the Sioux, who deemed these lands sacred and declared them off-limits to whites, but in 1874, under the leadership of Lt. col. George Armstrong Cuter, the treaty was officially broken with hi discovery of gold there. It set off a stampede of prospectors and boomtowns sprang up overnight, bearing colorful names such as Deadwood and Lead. The Homestake Mine at Lead which opened in 1876 is still operational and shows no sign of quitting.

The Sioux and Northern Cheyenne responded to the invasion of the settlers and the breaking of the treaty with one last uprising, led by Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and several others. It was one of the few times the great Sioux nation ever fought together as a unit. The battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana ended General Custer's life and somewhat questionable career, but eventually the Sioux were forced onto reservations. One particular of Custer's battles lives on as one of infamy--The Battle of Wounded Knee in which the soldiers under his command led an unwarranted attack on a village of women and children and elderly tribesmen. As a point of interest, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the participants in the Wounded Knee and Bighorn battles. My grandfather and I met Chief Iron Hail Dewey Beard in South Dakota when I was in fifth grade. Chief Beard was in his 90s and living on site in his teepee with his daughter and granddaughter. Because he was not eligible for social security or other pensions, he made his living allowing tourists to take his photograph. My grandfather was an avid western historian and so began talking with Chief Beard. Chief Beard was pleased with our interest and invited us into his teepee and told us of his experiences, which were many. He lost his first wife and child in the slaughter at Wounded Knee and was one of those who personally saw to it that General Custer did not live to do this ever again. He was a man of great dignity and carried the wisdom of many years. I never forgot that experience. A few years later, there was a big article on him in the Omaha World Herald Newspaper and I carried that article for years because I was so honored to have made his acquaintance.

South Dakota was apportioned to several other territories before finally becoming a place in and of itself. Until 1820, they were part of the Missouri Territory. From time to time, the eastern half was joined into the Territories of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Western half of the territory belonged to the Nebraska Territory. In 1861, it finally was established as a territory and later divided into two separate territories, North and South Dakota.

Because of the rich soil which is between the Big Sioux and the Missouri Rivers, many farmers were attracted to the area. Several settlements were established along the Missouri River. After the first Homestead Act was passed in 1863, settlers pour into the area. The primary ethnic group in South Dakota is the Norwegians. You will also find numerous people from Germany, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, England, Austria, Irish, Finland, Poland, Greece and Italy.

South Dakota was officially a territory in 1861 and became the 40th state on 2 November 1889. As a matter of significant historic interest, in 1897 the Supreme Court ordered the United States government to pay the Sioux tribes $105 million for the 1887 forced surrender of the Black Hills. The Tribes refused the money. They wanted back their land.

Name Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Armstrong 1883 Created from the Dakota Territory in 1873, discontinued and incorporated into Hutchison County in 1879.  Created again in 1895 from part of Pratt County and abolished again in 1952.  Land became part of Dewey, Haakon and Ziebach Counties.  
Aurora 1879 Brule Plankinton
Beadle 1873 Spink, Clark Huron
Bennett 1909 Indian Lands Martin
BonHomme 1862 Charles Mix Tyndall
Boreman 1873 Discontinued in 1909 and became part of Corson County  
Brookings 1868 Unorganized Territory Brookings
Brown 1879 Beadle Aberdeen
Bruguler unknown May have been created and discontinued both in 1862.  Later became the counties of Brule and Charles Mix  
Brule 1879 Old Buffalo (Discontinued) Chamberlain
Buffalo 1872 Territorial County Gannvalley
Burdick 1883 Abolished in 1889  
Butte 1883 Harding Belle Fourche
Campbell 1873 Buffalo Mound City
Charles Mix 1865 Original District Lake Andes
Choteau 1883 Abolished in 1898  
Clark 1873 Hanson Clark
Clay 1862   Vermillion
Codington 1878 Indian Lands Watertown
Cole 1862 Renamed Union county on 7 January 1864  
Corson 1909 Boreman, Dewey McIntosh
Custer 1877 Indian Lands Custer
Davison 1875 Hanson Mitchell
Day 1879 Clark Webster
Delano 1875 Abolished in 1898  
Deuel 1878 Brookings Clear Lake
Dewey 1910 Indian Reservation, Armstrong Timber Lake
Douglas 1873 Charles Mix Armour
Edmunds 1873 Buffalo Ipswich
Ewing 1883 split up in 1984  
Fall River 1883 Custer Hot Springs
Faulk 1873   Faulkton
Grant 1873 Codington, Deuel Milbank
Gregory 1889 Yankton Burke
Haakon     Philip
Hamlin 1878 Deuel Hayti
Hand 1873 Buffalo Miller
Hanson 1872 Buffalo, Deuel Alexandria
Harding 1881 Unorganized Territory Buffalo
Hughes 1874 Buffalo Pierre
Hutchinson 1871 Unorganized Territory Olivet
Hyde 1873 Buffalo Highmore
Jackson 1915 Stanley Kadoka
Jerauld 1883 Aurora Wessington Springs
Jones 1917 Lyman Murdo
Kingsbury 1879 Hanson De Smet
Lake 1873 Brookings, Hanson Madison
Lawrence 1875 Unorganized Territory Deadwood
Lincoln 1871 Minnehaha Canton
Lyman 1873 Unorganized Territory Kennebec
McCook 1873 Hanson Salem
McPherson 1873 Buffalo Leola
Marshall 1885 Day Britton
Meade 1889 Lawrence Sturgis
Mellette 1909 Lyman Howard
Miner 1873 Hanson Howard
Minnehaha 1865 Territorial County Sioux Falls
Moody 1873 Brookings, Minnehaha Flandreau
Pennington 1877 Unorganized Territory Rapid City
Perkins 1909 Harding, Butte Bison
Potter 1875 Buffalo Gettysburg
Roberts 1883 Grant Sisseton
Sanborn 1883 Miner Woonsocket
Shannon 1875 Territorial County, attached to Fall River County  
Spink 1879 Hanson, Walworth Redfield
Stanley 1873 Unorganized Territory Ft. Pierre
Sully 1873 Potter Onida
Todd 1871 Indian Lands - attached to Tripp County  
Tripp 1873 Unorganized Territory Winner
Turner 1871 Lincoln Parker
Union 1864 Unorganized Territory Elk Point
Walworth 1868 Territorial County Shelby
Washabaugh 1883 Indian Lands - Attached to Jackson County  
Yankton 1884 Unorganized Territory Yankton
Ziebach 1869 Pennington Dupree